Cherie Blair to highlight Afghan women's plight

Cherie Blair was today joining Cabinet ministers for a Downing Street event to highlight the oppression of women and girls under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Cherie Blair was today joining Cabinet ministers for a Downing Street event to highlight the oppression of women and girls under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The British Prime Minister’s wife will be joined by five Afghan women who used to teach and work in the country, as well as Education Secretary Estelle Morris and International Development Secretary Clare Short.

Mrs Blair’s involvement in such a high-profile event in the anti-terrorism coalition echoes an address by the US first lady Laura Bush about the ‘‘brutal oppression’’ by the Islamic militia in Afghanistan.

The Afghan women will be telling Mrs Blair about their experiences teaching and working under the regime before they were forced to leave the country. They arrived as refugees into the UK.

Under the strict Taliban regime, girls have been denied the right to education and women have been executed for failing to obey rules.

Tony Blair’s official spokesman said: ‘‘We feel it is important to underline just what has happened, what the situation has been like for women and girls within Afghanistan.

‘‘Their human rights have been denied, people have been executed in football stadiums in front of cheering crowds, girls have had to be educated in secret. There is a story that we have to keep telling.’’

He added the downfall of the Taliban had been a ‘‘great humanitarian achievement’’.

Asked whether it meant Mrs Blair was effectively a member of the Government, the spokesman said: ‘‘If she chooses to lend her support, there is nothing wrong with that at all.’’

On Saturday Laura Bush became the first US President’s wife to give a solo address to the nation.

Predecessors Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton had shared airtime with their husbands.

Mrs Bush told Americans: ‘‘That regime is now in retreat across much of the country, and the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing.

‘‘Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists.’’

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